As part of an ongoing effort to give the shaft to Florida consumers, a bill was recently filed with the Florida Legislature which would greatly restrict – or even eliminate – the rights of property owners attempting to properly repair damage caused to their homes by sinkhole activity. Senate Bill 416 (blandly titled, “Sinkhole Coverage”) is a blatant attempt to not only force property owners to repair their property in the manner chosen by Citizens Property Insurance Company, but to also relieve Citizens of any further liability if its mandate repairs fail to repair the home.
In order to understand the true malevolent nature this proposed bill, it is necessary to understand the manner by which sinkhole damaged properties are normally repaired. If a property is deemed to have been damaged by sinkhole activity, the insurance company must then provide coverage for the cost to repair the property. Usually, the engineering firm which initially found the sinkhole activity would set forth a recommended repair method, but then, per the Florida Statutes, the homeowner would also have a say in the manner by which the property was to be repaired. Through this statutorily mandated consultation between the insurance company and the property owner, it was hoped that an agreeable resolution could be reached and the property repaired to the satisfaction of all. Furthermore, the law mandates that, if the homeowner was forced to used the insurance company’s repair method, the insurance company must stand behind these repairs and if any further damage resulted or the mandated plan was not sufficient, the insurance company must come back and provide any additional repairs necessary.
Citizens Property Insurance is now attempting to “legislate” its way out of this deal – but in an amazingly brazen way. Per SB 416, Citizens would be able to legislatively mandate that property owners not only repair the property pursuant to Citizens’ method, but that the property owners MUST use one of Citizens’ “chosen” repair companies. But here comes the real kicker – these repair companies must fix the property on a “fixed price” contract. In essence, whatever cost estimate Citizens’ engineer thinks up, the third party repair company will only be paid that amount per the contract and, if the cost estimate is not accurate or the job runs over, the third party repair company must continue to repair the property and eat the difference in cost! But wait, it gets better. Not only does the repair company have to eat any overages in the repair costs (which almost always occur), the repair company would be legislatively mandated to “guarantee” the repairs down the road! (Remember, it was Citizens’ engineer who made the cost/repair estimate, not the repair company.) If the shoddy repairs set forth by Citizens fail and further damage is caused to the home – the third-party repair company is stuck with having to pay for the damage – and Citizens gets to walk away with no exposure! Under the new proposal, despite Citizens being able to force its version of the repairs upon the property owner, Citizens’ only exposure for these repairs – even if the repairs catastropically fail (think Dunedin) – is paying the initial cost estimate set forth by its own engineer.
Now, let’s take this one logical step further. If Citizens knows that its only exposure is paying the repair cost estimated by its engineer, and Citizens is the entity that pays the engineer….how long will it be before this engineer starts getting pressure to “under-estimate” the repair protocols? It would be a great deal for Citizens – if its engineer can look at a repair job that should cost $50,000, but instead the engineer gives the opinion that the repair cost should only be $30,000 – that would be all Citizens would have to pay! And hey, when the expenses hit their true value during the repair of the property, it is the third-party repair company that has to pick up the tab – no matter what the cost! What a deal! Heck – why not just estimate the cost of repair at a dollar – by law, that is all Citizens would then have to pay!
Clearly, Senate Bill 416 is not good for Florida consumers – or even repair companies for that matter! During the upcoming legislative session, it is important that all Florida property owners make sure that their elected officials fight for the rights of their constituents and not allow insurance company lobbyists to have their way in Tallahassee.
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